Leonard Woolsey Bacon.

A history of American Christianity online

. (page 33 of 34)
Online LibraryLeonard Woolsey BaconA history of American Christianity → online text (page 33 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

1 The first proposal for such an assembly seems to be contained in an ar-
ticle by L. Bacon in the " New Englander " for April, 1844. " Why might
there not be, ere long, some general conference in which the various evan-
gelical bodies of this country and Great Britain and of the continent of Eu-
rope should be in some way represented, and in which the great cause of
reformed and spiritual Christianity throughout the world should be made the
subject of detailed and deliberate consideration, with prayer and praise?
That would be an ' ecumenical council ' such as never yet assembled since
the apostles parted from each other at Jerusalem— a council not for legisla-
tion and division, but for union and communion and for the extension of the
saving knowledge of Christ " (pp. 253, 254).


kers," thus making up, " designedly and with their eyes
open, a schismatic unity — a unity composed of one part
of God's elect, to the exclusion of another; and this in a
grand effort after the very unity of the body of Christ." '
But in spite of this and other like mistakes, or rather be-
cause of them (for it is through its mistakes that the
church is to learn the right way), the early and unsuccess-
ful beginnings of the Evangelical Alliance marked a stage
in the slow progress toward a " manifestation of the sons
of God " by their love toward each other and toward the
common Lord.

It is in large part the eager appetency for some mani-
festation of interconfessional fellowship that has hastened
the acceptance of such organizations as the Young Men's
Christian Association and the Young People's Society of
Christian Endeavor; just as, on the other hand, it is the
conscientious fear, on the part of watchful guardians of
sectarian interests, that habitual fellowship across the
boundary lines of denominations may weaken the alle-
giance to the sect, which has induced the many attempts at
substituting associations constituted on a narrower basis.
But the fo rm of organiz ation which most comprehensiyely
illustrates thejyjiity^of_the church is that " Charity Organi-
zation " wh ich has grown to be a necessity to the social life
of cities and considerable towns, fi ^irnishing .a centraLoffice
of mut ual correspon dence and coordjnation_to,all churches
and societies and persons engaged in the Christian work
of relieving poverty and distress. This central bureau of
charitable cooperation is not the less a center of catholic
fellowship for the fact that it does not shut its door
against societies not distinctively Christian, like Masonic
fraternities, nor even against societies distinctively non-

1 See the pungent strictures of Horace Bushnell on " The Evangelical Al-
liance," in the " New Englander " for January, 1847, p. 109.


Christian, like Hebrew synagogues and " societies of ethi-
cal culture." We are coming to discover that the essence
of Christian fellowship does not consist in keeping people
out. Neither, so long as the apostolic rubric of Christian
worship 1 remains unaltered, is it to be denied that the
fellowship thus provided for is a fellowship in one of the
sacraments of Christian service.

A notable advance in true catholicity of communion is
reported from among the churches and scattered missions
in Maine. Hitherto, in the various movements of Chris-
tian union, it was common to attempt to disarm the suspi-
cions of zealous sectarians by urgent disclaimers of any
intent or tendency to infringe on the rights or interests of
the several sects, or impair their claim to a paramount al-
legiance from their adherents. The Christians of Maine,
facing tasks of evangelization more than sufficient to occupy
all their resources even when well economized and squan-
dering nothing on needless divisions and competitions,
have attained to the high grace of saying that sectarian
interests must and shall be sacrificed when the paramount
interests of the kingdom of Christ require it.^ When this
attainment is reached by other souls, and many other, the
conspicuous shame and scandal of American Christianity
will begin to be abated.

Meanwhile the signs of a craving for larger fellowship
continue to be multiplied. Quite independently of prac-
tical results achieved, the mere fact of efforts and experi-
ments is a hopeful fact, even when these are made in

1 James i. 27: " Pure and unpolluted worship, in the eye of God, consists
in visiting widows and orphans in their tribulation, and keeping one's self
spotless from the world."

2 An agreement has been made, in this State, among five leading denomi-
nations, to avoid competing enterprises in sparsely settled communities. An
interdenominational committee sees to the carrying out of this policy. At a
recent mutual conference unanimous satisfaction was expressed in the six
years' operation of the plan.


directions in which the past experience of the church has
written up " No Thoroughfare."

I. No one need question the sincerity or the fraternal
spirit with which some important denominations have each
proposed the reuniting of Christians on the simple condition
that all others should accept the distinctive tenet for which
each of these denominations has contended against other?.
The present pope, holding the personal respect and confi-
dence of the Christian world to a higher degree than an)'
one of his predecessors since the Reformation (to name
no earlier date), has earnestly besought the return of all
believers to a common fellowship by their acceptance of
the authority and supremacy of the Roman see. With
equal cordiality the bishops of the Protestant Episcopal
Church have signified their longing for restored fellowship
with their brethren on the acceptance by these of prelatical
episcopacy. And the Baptists, whose constant readiness
at fraternization in everything else is emphasized by their
conscientious refraining from the sacramental sign of com-
munion, are not less earnest in their desire for the unifica-
tion of Christendom by the general acceptance of that
tenet concerning baptism, the widespread rejection of
which debars them, reluctant, from unrestricted fellowship
with the general company of faithful men. But while we
welcome every such manifestation of a longing for union
among Christians, and honor the aspiration that it might
be brought about in one or another of these ways, in fore-
casting the probabilities of the case, we recognize the ex-
treme unlikeliness that the very formulas which for ages
have been the occasions of mutual contention and separa-
tion shall become the basis of general agreement and
lasting concord.

II. Another indication of the craving for a larger fel-
lowship is found in the efforts made for large sectarian


councils, representing closely kindred denominations in
more than one country. The imposing ubiquity of the
Roman Church, so impressively sustaining its claim to
the title Catholic, may have had some influence to pro-
voke other denominations to show what could be done in
emulation of this sort of greatness. It were wiser not to
invite comparison at this point. No other Christian organ-
ization, or close fellowship of organizations, can approach
that which has its seat at Rome, in the world-wideness of
its presence, or demand with so bold a challenge,

Quae regio in terris non nostri plena laboris?

The representative assembly of any other body of Chris-
tians, however widely ramified, must seem insignificant
when contrasted with the real ecumenicity of the Vatican
Council. But it has not been useless for the larger sects
of Protestantism to arrange their international assemblies,
if it were for nothing more than this, that such widening
of the circle of practical fellowship may have the effect
to disclose to each sect a larger Christendom outside to
which their fellowship must sooner or later be made to

The first of these international sectarian councils was
that commonly spoken of as " the Pan-Anglican Synod,"
of Protestant Episcopal bishops gathered at Lambeth by
invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1867 and
thrice since. The example was bettered by the Presby-
terians, who in 1876 organized for permanence their " Pam-
Presbyterian Alliance," or " Alliance of the Reformed
Churches throughout the world holding the Presbyterian
System." The first of the triennial general councils of
this Alliance was held at Edinburgh in 1877, "represent-
ing more than forty-nine separate churches scattered


through twenty-five different countries, and consisting of
more than twenty thousand congregations." ^ The second
council was held at Philadelphia, and the third at Belfast.
The idea was promptly seized by the Methodists. At the
instance of the General Conference of the United States,
a Pam-Methodist Council was held in London in 1881, —
" the first Ecumenical Methodist Conference," — consist-
ing of four hundred delegates, representing twenty-eight
branches of Methodism, ten in the eastern hemisphere and
eighteen in the western, including six millions of commu-
nicants and about twenty millions of people.^ Ten years
later, in 1891, a second "Methodist Ecumenical Confer-
ence " was held at Washington.

Interesting and useful as this international organ ization
of sects is capable of being made, it would be a mistake
to look upon it as marking a stage in the progress toward
a manifest general unity of the church. Th£_teiideiicy of
it is, on the whole, in the opposite direction.

III. If the organization of " ecumenical " sects has little
tendency toward the visible communion of saints in the
American church, not much more is to be hoped from
measures for the partial consolidation of sects, such as are
often projected and sometimes realized. The healing of
the great thirty years' schism of the Presbyterian Church,
in 1869, was so vast a gain in ecclesiastical economy, and
in the abatement of a long-reeking public scandal and of
a multitude of local frictions and irritations, that none need
wonder at the awakening of ardent desires that the ten
Presbyterian bodies still surviving might " find room for
all within one fold " ^ in a national or continental Presby-

1 " Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia," vol. i., p. 63.

2 Buckley, " The Methodists," p. 552.

s Thompson, "The Presbyterians," p. 308.


terian Church. The seventeen Methodist bodies, separated
by no differences of polity or of doctrine that seem impor-
tant to anybody but themselves, if consolidated into one,
would constitute a truly imposing body, numbering nearly
five millions of communicants and more than fifteen mil-
lions of people ; and if this should absorb the Protestant
Episcopal Church (an event the possibility of which hris
often been contemplated with complacency), with its half-
million of communicants and its elements of influence far
beyond the proportion of its numbers, the result would
be an approximation to some good men's ideal of a na-
tional church, with its army of ministers coordinated by a
college of bishops, and its plebs adunata sacerdoti. Con-
sultations are even now in progress looking toward the
closer fellowship of the Congregationalists and the Disci-
ples. The easy and elastic terms of internal association in
each of these denominations make it the less difficult to
adjust terms of mutual cooperation and union. Suppose
that the various Baptist organizations were to discover
that under their like congregational government there
were ways in which, without compromising or weakening
in the slightest their protest against practices which they
reprobate in the matter of baptism, they could, for certain
defined purposes, enter into the .same combination, the re-
sult would be a body of nearly five millions of communi-
cants, not the less strong for being lightly harnessed and
for comprehending wide diversities of opinion and tem-
perament. In all this we have supposed to be realized
nothing more than friends of Christian union have at one
time or another urged as practicable and desirable. By
these few and, it would seem, not incongruous combina-
tions there would be four powerful ecclesiastical corpora-
tions, — one Catholic and three Protestant, — which, out of
the twenty millions of church communicants in the United

C0X.S0l.//).l/70\ OF SF.CTS. 41"

States, would include more than seventeen and one half

The pondering of these possibilities is pertinent to
this closing chapter on account of the fact that, as we
near the end of the nineteenth century, one of the most
distinctl^L-visiblfi-leiideucies, is.-±he.tenderLcy toward the
abatement of ^sectarian division in the church. It is not
for us simply to note the converging lines of tendency,
without some attempt to compute the point toward which
they converge. There is grave reason to doubt whether
this line of the consolidation or confederation of sects, fol-
lowed never so far, would reach the desired result.

If the one hundred and forty-three sects enumerated in
the eleventh census of the United States ^ should by suc-
cessful negotiation be reduced to four, distinguished each
from the others by strongly marked diversities of organi-
zation and of theological statement, and united to each
other only by community of the one faith in Jesus Christ,
doubtless it would invoh-e some important gains. It
would make it possible to be rid of the friction and some-
times the clash of much useless and expensive machinery,
and to extinguish many local schisms that had been en-
gendered by the zeal of ^ome central sectarian propaganda.
Would it tend to mitigate the intensity of sectarian com-
petition, or would it tend rather to aggravate it? Is one's
pride in his sect, his zeal for the propagation of it, his
jealousy of any influence that tends to impair its greatness
or hinder its progress, likely to be reduced, or is it rather
likely to be exalted, by the consciousness that the sect is
a very great sect, standing alone for important principles?

1 If the Lutherans of America were to be united with the Presbyterians,
it would be no more than was accomplished fourscore years ago in Prussia.
In that case, out of 20,618,307 communicants, there would be included in
the four combinations, 18,768,859.

2 Dr. Carroll, " Religious Forces," p. xv.



Whatever there is at present of asperity in the emulous
labors of the competing denominations, would it not be
manifold exasperated if the competition were restricted to
four great corporations or confederations? If the intestine
conflict of the church of Christ in America should even
be narrowed down (as many have devoutly wished) to two
contestants, — the Catholic Church with its diversity of
orders and rites, on the one hand, and Protestantism with
its various denominations solidly confederated, on the
other, — should we be nearer to the longed-for achieve-
ment of Christian union ? or should we find sectarian ani-
mosities thereby raised to the highest power, and the
church, discovering that it was on the wrong track for the
desired terminus, compelled to reverse and back in order
to be switched upon the right one?
*— Questions like these, put to be considered, not to be
answered, raise in the mind the misgiving that we have
been seeking in diplomatic negotiations between high con-
tracting parties that which diplomacy can do only a little
toward accomplishing. The great aim is to be sought in
humbler ways. It is more hopeful to begin at the lower
end. Not in great towns and centers of ecclesiastical in-
fluence, but in villages and country districts, the deadly
effects of comminuted fracture in the church are most
deeply felt. It is directly to the people of such commu-
nities, not through the medium of persons or committees
that represent national sectarian interests, that the new
commandment is to be preached, which yet is no new
commandment, but the old commandment which they have
had from the beginning. It cannot always be that sincere
Christian believers, living together in a neighborhood in
which the ruinous effects of division are plain to every eye,
shall continue to misapprehend or disregard some of the
tenderest and most unmistakable counsels of their Lord and


his apostles, or imagine the authority of them to be can-
celed by the authority of any sect or party of Christians.
The double fallacy, first, that it is a Christian's prime duty
to look out for his own soul, and, secondly, that the soul's
best health is to be secured by sequestering it from contact
with dissentient opinions, and indulging its tastes and
preferences wherein they differ from those of its neighbor,
must sometime be found out and exposed. The discov-
ery will be made that there is nothing in the most cherished
sermons and sacraments and prayers that is comparable in
value, as a means of grace, with the giving up of all these
for God's reign and righteousness — that he who will save
his soul shall lose it, and he who will lose his soul for
Christ and his gospel shall save it to life eternal. These
centuries of church history, beginning with convulsive
disruptions of the church in Europe, with persecutions and
religious wars, present before us the importation into the
New World of the religious divisions and subdivisions of
the Old, and the further division of these beyond any
precedent in history. It begins to look as if in this
" strange work " God had been grinding up material for a
nobler manifestation of the unity of his people. The
sky of the declining century is red with promise. Hitherto,
not the decay of religious earnestness only, but the re-
vival of it, has brought into the church, not peace, but
division. When next some divine breathing of spiritual
influence shall be wafted over the land, can any man
forbid the hope that from village to village the members
of the disintegrated and enfeebled church of Christ may
be gathered together " with one accord in one place "
not for the transient fervors of the revival only, but for
permanent fellowship in work and worship? A few ex-
amples of this would spread their influence through the
American church " until the whole was leavened."



The record of important events in the annals of Ameri-
can Christianity may well end with that wholly unpre-
cedented gathering at Chicago in connection with the
magnificent celebration of the four hundredth anniversary
of the discovery of America by Columbus — I mean, of
course, the Parliament of Religions. In a land which bears
among the nations the reproach of being wholly absorbed
in devotion to material interests, and in which the church,
unsupported and barely recognized by the state, and un-
regulated by any secular authority, scatters itself into what
seem to be hopelessly discordant fragments, a bold enter-
prise was undertaken in the name of American Christianity,
such as the church in no other land of Christendom would
have had the power or the courage to venture on. With
large hospitality, representatives of all the religions of the
world were invited to visit Chicago, free of cost, as guests
of the Parliament. For seventeen days the Christianity of
America, and of Christendom, and of Christian missions in
heathen lands, sat confronted — no, not confronted, but
side by side on the same platform — with the non-Chris-
tian religions represented by their priests, prelates, ar.d
teachers. Of all the diversities of Christian opinion and
organization in America nothing important was unrepre-
sented, from the authoritative dogmatic system and tlie
solid organization of the Catholic Church (present in the
person of its highest official dignitaries) to the broadest
liberalism and the most unrestrained individualism. There
were those who stood aloof and prophesied that nothing
could come of such an assemblage but a hopeless jangle of
discordant opinions. The forebodings were disappointed.
The diverse opinions were there, and were uttered with
entire unreserve. But the jangle of discord was not there.
It was seen and felt that the American church, in the
presence of the unchristian and antichristian powers, and



in presence of those solemn questions of the needs of hu-
manity that overtask the ingenuity and the resources of
us all combined, was " builded as a city that is at unity
with itself." That body which, by its strength of organi-
zation, and by the binding force of its antecedents, might
have seemed to some most hopelessly isolated from the
common sympathies of the assembly, like all the rest was
faithful in the assertion of its claims, and, on the other
hand, was surpassed by none in the manifestation of fra-
ternal respect toward fellow- Christians of other folds.
Since those seventeen wonderful September days of 1893,
the idea that has so long prevailed with multitudes of
minds, that the only Christian union to be hoped for in
America must be a union to the exclusion of the Roman
Catholic Church and in antagonism to it, ought to be
reckoned an idea obsolete and antiquated.

The theme prescribed for this volume gives no oppor- \
tunity for such a conclusion as the literary artist delights
in — a climax of achievement and consummation, or the
catastrophe of a decline and fall. We have marked the
sudden divulging to the world of the long-kept secret of
divine Providence; the unveiling of the hidden continent;
the progress of discovery, of conquest, of colonization ;
the planting of the church ; the rush of immigration ; the
occupation of the continent with Christian institutions by
a strange diversity of sects ; the great providential prepa-
rations as for some " divine event " still hidden behind the
curtain that is about to rise on the new century, — and
here the story breaks off half told.

To so many of his readers as shall have followed him to
this last page of the volume, the author would speak a
parting word. He does not deprecate the criticisms that



will certainly be pronounced upon his work by those com-
petent to judge both of the subject and of the style of it.
He would rather acknowledge them in advance. No one
of his critics can possibly have so keen a sense as the au-
thor himself of his incompetency, and of the inadequacy
of his work, to the greatness of the subject. To one re-
proach, however, he cannot acknowledge himself justly
liable : he is not self-appointed to a task beyond his powers
and attainments, but has undertaken it at the instance of
eminent men to whose judgment he was bound to defer.
But he cannot believe that even his shortcomings and
failures will be wholly fruitless. If they shall provoke
some really competent scholar to make a book worthy of
so great and inspiring a theme, the present author will be
well content.


Abbot, Ezra, 379.

Abbot, George, Archbishop, 42.

Abbott, Lyman, 384.

Abolitionists, 82, 282, 284.

Adams, Charles Francis, 131.

Adventists, 336.

Albany, 69.

Albrights, 229,

Alexander, Dr. Gross, 348.

Alexander VI., pope, 3, 17.

Allen, Professor A. V. G., 156, 159,

Allen, Professor J. H., 250.

Alliance, Evangelical, 408.

America : providential concealment
of, I ; medieval church in, 2 ;
Spanish conquests and missions
in, 6-15; French occupation and
missions, 16-29; English colo-
nies in, 38-67, 82-126; Dutch
and Swedes in, 68-81 ; churches
of New England, 88 ; Quaker colo-
nization, 109-I17; other colonists,
120-124; diverse sects, 127-139;
Great Awakening, 157-180; Pres-
byterians, 186; Reformed, 187;
Lutheran, 188; Moravian, 189;
Methodist, 198; severance of colo-
nies from England and of church
from state, 221; Second Awaken-
ing, 233 ; organized beneficence,
246; conflicts of the church, 261 ;
dissension and schism, 292 ; im- ;
migration, 315; the church in the
Civil War, 340 ; reconstruction and I

expansion of the church, 351 ; the-
ology and literature, 374; political
union and ecclesiastical division,
398; tendencies toward unity, 405.

American Bible Society, 256, 408.

American Board of Missions, 252-

American Missionary Association,

255. 314.
Andover Theological Seminary, 251,

Andrew, Bishop, 302.
Andrews, E. B., 340.
Andrews, W. G., 177, 179.
Anglican Church established in Ameri-

can colonies, 51, 61, 64, 65.

Online LibraryLeonard Woolsey BaconA history of American Christianity → online text (page 33 of 34)